FPI Overnight Brief: July 28, 2017

The Must-Reads

Middle East/North Africa

Iran
 
President Trump, frustrated that his national security aides have not given him any options on how the United States can leave the Iran nuclear deal, has instructed them to find a rationale for declaring that the country is violating the terms of the accord. – New York Times
 
The State Department said Thursday that Iran’s launch of a space satellite was a “provocative action” that violates a U.N. resolution on ballistic missiles as well as the spirit of the landmark 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers. – Washington Post
 
Iran responded angrily Thursday to reports that the Trump administration would push for inspections of military facilities to ensure Tehran is complying with the 2015 nuclear deal. – Los Angeles Times
 
Former Vice President Hamid Baghaei has criticized Iran's judiciary and the treatment of prisoners following his release on bail. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
 
Iranian officials have traded barbs in a public dispute over the hugely popular messaging app Telegram. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
 
Editorial: Advocates of the nuclear deal persist in arguing that Iran is in compliance with its provisions. It takes considerable credulousness to believe that over the course of this agreement the Iranian military won’t adapt technical knowledge gained about launch and guidance from projects like its “satellite missile” program. With or without compliance, Iran is making progress as a strategic threat. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
 
Syria
 
The introduction of the note, worth less than $4, comes as Syria’s economy is in tatters, grappling with wartime inflation, lost production and widespread poverty that could threaten stability even in regime-held areas. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
 
The U.S. military has parted ways with a Syrian rebel group that has been involved in the fight against Islamic State militants in Syria. – Military Times
 
U.S.-backed Syrian fighters have captured almost half of the Islamic State group’s de facto capital of Raqqa, but the push into the city in northern Syria has slowed due to stiff resistance and large amounts of explosives planted by the extremists, a spokeswoman for the fighters and monitors said Thursday. – Associated Press
 
With relative calm in southwest Syria since a ceasefire was reached in early July, civil defense services in rebel-held Deraa have shifted focus to clearing unexploded cluster bombs left by air strikes. - Reuters
 
Frederic Hof writes: Civilian protection is the price of admission to a future Syria in which terrorism and mass homicide have no place. Civilian protection is the gateway to political transition. Civilian protection enables the United States to regain a reputation gratuitously sacrificed at a great and needless cost. – Atlantic Council
 
ISIS
 
The flow of foreign fighters trying to join ISIS in Iraq and Syria has stopped completely. “They can’t get in now and the foreign fighters that did get in, they will die in Iraq and Syria” according to the top U.S. official coordinating the international fight against the terrorist organization. – Defense One
 
Six Republican senators are calling on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to explain reports that top State Department lawyers are systematically removing the word "genocide" to describe the Islamic State's slaughter of Christians, Yazidis, and other ethnic minorities in Iraq and Syria from official agency documents. – Washington Free Beacon
 
Arabian Peninsula
 
Qatar's foreign minister called Thursday for the United Nations to help resolve the crisis in the Persian Gulf and accused the four Arab countries that have isolated his energy-rich nation of violating international law. – Associated Press
 
A ballistic missile fired by Yemen's Houthi rebels toward the Muslim holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia was shot down late on Thursday, said the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen. - Reuters
 
Yemen's cholera outbreak is so widespread that just drinking water can lead to death. Nearly 2,000 people have already succumbed to one of the worst recorded outbreaks of cholera in modern history, with over 400,000 having contracted the disease, according to the World Health Organization. - Reuters
 
Levant
 
Palestinians declared a hard-won victory Thursday against what they saw as an attempt by Israel to limit access at their holiest site, the al-Aqsa Mosque compound. – Washington Post
 
A powerful tribe has given the Jordanian government an ultimatum: Release the killer of three U.S. soldiers or face a wave of tribal unrest. – Washington Post
 
It is still unclear what sparked the shootout that led to the deaths of three American soldiers at King Faisal Air Base in Jordan in November. What is clear, according to a recently released video of the incident, is that after the initial burst of gunfire, the remaining Americans were outgunned and stalked by a person set on killing them. – Washington Post’s Checkpoint

 

Asia

South Asia
 
The House on Thursday voted to block the Defense Department from buying Afghan army uniforms as part of its annual defense spending bill. – Washington Examiner
 
A joint U.S. and Afghan military operation in Afghanistan’s eastern Paktika province killed two al-Qaida-linked leaders and led to the capture of a third, a government official said Thursday. – Associated Press
 
Al-Qaida said for the first time it is active in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir, announcing on a linked propaganda network that a militant from an indigenous rebel group would lead a new outfit of fighters opposing Indian rule in the disputed region. – Associated Press
 
Pakistan
 
Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Friday ordered the removal of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from office over accusations of corruption, delivering a ruling that is likely to shift the country’s tumultuous political balance and deal a serious blow to the legacy of a man who helped define the past generation of Pakistani politics. – New York Times
 
The Pakistani police arrested 25 people in a rural village on Thursday, after the village council ordered a man to rape a teenage girl publicly to avenge the sexual assault of his sister. – New York Times
 
Pakistan must address a catalog of human rights failings including state-sponsored abductions and a death penalty that amounts to torture, but its national watchdog is muzzled, the U.N. Human Rights Committee said on Thursday. - Reuters
 
China
 
President Xi Jinping kicked off final preparations for China’s coming leadership shuffle by offering a sweeping defense of his administration’s record, touting progress both in tackling corruption and economic imbalances at home and helping solve global problems. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
 
China on Thursday accused CIA Director Mike Pompeo of disparaging China in remarks describing Beijing as the most significant long-term security threat to the United States. – Washington Free Beacon
 
China has closed off a swath of ocean off its east coast for military activities, but has said little about what the exercises entail. – Associated Press
 
China's ruling Communist Party cannot rest on its laurels in the fight against corruption, President Xi Jinping said ahead of a key party congress later this year where he will cement his grip on power. - Reuters
 
Bill Gertz reports: A senior CIA analyst has offered a rare public glimpse into American intelligence analysis of China. Michael Collins, deputy assistant director and head of the agency’s East Asia mission center, believes more attention should be focused on China and that recent public angst about Russia is distracting America from the threat posed by China. – Asia Times
 
FPI Senior Fellow Ellen Bork writes: In the West, Tibet is usually seen as a settled matter of limited strategic interest. In fact, China’s expansive approach to Tibet now threatens India and the model of a free Tibet it hosts within its borders. Both are of the utmost importance to the United States as it confronts China’s rise in the region and around the world. – The American Interest
 
North Korea
 
North Korea’s state-sponsored hackers are increasingly going after money rather than secrets, according to a report published on Thursday by a South Korean government-backed institute. – New York Times
 
The Army chief of staff cautioned on Thursday that North Korea's successful launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile earlier this month significantly shortened the amount of time for American officials to broker a diplomatic solution with Pyongyang. – Washington Free Beacon
 
The deep fissures over how to solve our knottiest national security problem, North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons, were on full display here this afternoon as the government’s top expert said Kim Jong-un “does not intend to negotiate those capabilities away at any price.” – Breaking Defense
 
As pressure on North Korea grows over its nuclear weapons program, America’s most valued Arab allies host thousands of its laborers whose wages help Pyongyang evade sanctions and build the missiles now threatening the U.S. and its Asian partners, officials and analysts say. – Associated Press
 
Japan
 
Mr Abe’s approval rating has in just a few months plunged from a comfortable 60 per cent to 33 per cent — perilously close to levels that have done for previous Japanese prime ministers. But Ms Murata’s exit over the dismal poll ratings of her own Democratic party shows why most political observers expect Mr Abe to survive: there is simply no viable alternative. – Financial Times
 
Labour shortages in Japan have reached a new level of severity, with more permanent jobs open than applicants for the first time on record. – Financial Times
 
Embattled Japanese Defence Minister Tomomi Inada on Friday said she was resigning, after a series of gaffes, missteps and a cover-up at her ministry that have contributed to a sharp plunge in public support for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. - Reuters
 
Southeast Asia
 
Malaysia will begin on October 2 the trial of two women accused of the dramatic killing of the estranged half brother of North Korea's leader, the High Court said on Friday. - Reuters
 
The United Nations called on Vietnam on Friday to release a prominent dissident who was jailed for nine years this week, according to her lawyer, after a one-day trial for spreading propaganda against the state. - Reuters
 
Australia
 
The lobbying battle between Britain’s BAE Systems, Spain’s Navantia and Italy’s Fincantieri is part of a scramble by arms manufacturers to cash in on Canberra’s A$195bn splurge on military hardware over the next decade. It follows a pledge by the Liberal-National coalition to boost defence spending to 2 per cent of gross domestic product by 2020-21 — a move motivated by escalating tensions in the Asia-Pacific region and China’s rise as a naval power. – Financial Times

Security

Defense
 
The House on Thursday passed a four-bill, $789.6 billion package that includes defense and military construction, and Veterans Affairs spending for 2018, almost entirely along party lines. – Defense News
 
Jim Talent writes: The Trump order is the highest level and most comprehensive such directive since the Eisenhower years. It is evidence that the administration is taking a serious problem seriously, and it should produce a plan to address the shortfalls in the industrial base. But that plan will be just a plan unless there is money to operationalize it — and that means the budget caps, which should never have been on, must come off. – National Review Online’s The Corner
 
Jerry Hendrix writes: The only difficulty with the Air Force’s B-21 acquisition strategy is that service leaders do not plan to buy enough….Analysis of peacetime air-presence missions and wartime campaign plans suggest that the air service requires a minimum of 164 aircraft and possibly a lot more, depending upon how and where they plan to use older bombers in A2/AD environments. – Defense One
 
Army
 
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley wants the American public to stop fooling itself when it comes to war, so he’s drawn up five ”myths” he says we need to let go of, pronto. – Military Times
 
The tank is far from obsolete and the US will need a new armored vehicle to replace its 1980-vintage M1 Abrams, the Army Chief of Staff said here this afternoon. But what kind of tank, on what kind of timeline? Gen. Mark Milley made clear he was looking for a “breakthrough,” not incremental evolution – which probably means that the new tank will take a long time. – Breaking Defense
 
The Army is now engineering a new Advanced Multi-Purpose 120mm ammunition round for a far-superior M1A2 SEP v4 Abrams tank variant for the 2020s and beyond --designed to be more lethal, faster, lighter weight, better protected, equipped with new sensors and armed with upgraded, more effective weapons, service officials said. – Scout Warrior
 
Navy
 
A new electromagnetic launch system for aircraft carriers that has faltered when attempting to launch heavier planes is now sound thanks to a software fix, Navy officials announced this week. However, it won’t reach the Navy’s new carrier for more than a year. – DOD Buzz
 
The cost to repair stricken destroyer USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62) will easily be more than the $250 million the U.S. Navy paid to repair USS Cole (DDG-67) after it suffered a 2000 terrorist attack in Yemen, USNI News has learned. – USNI News
 
The Navy held an industry day for companies interested in participating in the frigate program, walking them through what is already decided about the future ship program and what decisions are pending industry feedback. – USNI News
 
The War
 
The U.S. government has spent millions in taxpayer dollars on programs to combat violent extremism, despite the absence of evidence these programs have prevented the growth of terrorists in the United States, according to Congress, which criticized the FBI and Department of Homeland Security for enacting policy preventing its authorities from referencing "Islam" and "Islamic terrorism." – Washington Free Beacon
 
The two psychologists who helped design the CIA’s harsh interrogation methods used in the war on terror are battling with a civil liberties group over their responsibility for detainees being subjected to waterboarding and beatings following the Sept. 11 attacks. – Associated Press
 
Arms Control
 
Matthew Costlow writes: The nuclear ban treaty effort will fail because it condemns the military tool of nuclear weapons as the problem, not the state actors behind the use of that tool. It is precisely because of the enduring nature of these security threats and the prudence of nuclear deterrence as a strategy that the nuclear ban treaty should be rejected. – War on the Rocks
 
Cybersecurity
 
Michael Sulmeyer writes: Just as the United States has learned how to be resilient in the face of terrorism, a similar mindset needs to be adopted for cyberspace. Such an acknowledgment in no way advocates giving up trying to keep hackers out of the United States’ most critical systems; only that the U.S. government should also be prepared to fight and defeat them quickly and decisively if they are initially successful. – Defense One

Russia/Europe

Ukraine
 
Once they were prominent allies in opposing the Kremlin: President Petro O. Poroshenko of Ukraine and the former president of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili. Mr. Saakashvili even went so far as to emigrate to Ukraine to serve as a regional governor under Mr. Poroshenko. But they have now fallen out so badly that on Wednesday, Mr. Poroshenko stripped Mr. Saakashvili of his Ukrainian citizenship, leaving him stateless. – New York Times
 
Mikheil Saakashvili, the former Georgian president and Odesa regional governor who has been stripped of his Ukrainian citizenship, is vowing to resist what he called the "cowardly" move and to "continue fighting for a real European Ukraine." – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
 
John Herbst writes: In other words, the performance of the Ukrainian government is, on balance, far better than the public description of its efforts. It has also greatly exceeded the expectations that many well-informed observers, including in the international financial institutions, had at the start of this process three years ago. – Atlantic Council
 
Anastasia Krasnosilska writes: If the HQCJ appoints candidates with unjustified assets, fraud in declarations, past decisions against human rights or politically motivated rulings, Ukraine’s large, loud, and powerful civil society will consider the competition an abject failure. We will not accept “transparent procedures” that make a mockery of the reform process. – Atlantic Council
 
Russia
 
President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia on Thursday denounced as “illegal” American plans for new sanctions against his country and scorned investigations into the Trump campaign’s relations with Russia as political hysteria. Moscow, Mr. Putin warned, cannot “put up forever with this boorishness.” – New York Times
 
Russia seized two American diplomatic properties on Friday and ordered the United States Embassy in Moscow to reduce its staff by September, in the Kremlin’s first retaliatory steps against proposed new American sanctions. – New York Times
 
Senators are sending legislation slapping new sanctions on Moscow to President Trump's desk, setting up a potential showdown with the White House over Russia. – The Hill
 
An adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin in a recent interview said Russia must impose reforms following its next presidential election in order to offset new U.S. sanctions targeting the Kremlin. – The Hill
 
Anders Fogh Rasmussen writes: Europe and the US have the same end goal of security in eastern Europe and a normalisation of relations with Russia. This goal should not be thrown away in a crossfire of different commercial interests. Doing so would tear apart transatlantic unity on Russia and split Europe. Our unity has a purpose: to drive Russia and its proxies out of Ukrainian territory it seized by force. It is time for us to change Moscow’s calculus. If this bill is not the right solution then Europeans need to answer one question: what is? – Financial Times
 
Europe
 
Poland's ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party is sticking to its flagship plans for "radical" reform of the judiciary, despite seeing two bills vetoed by the president this week, PiS head Jaroslaw Kaczynski said on Thursday. - Reuters

Americas

United States of America
 
Rubio, whose Cuban heritage has given him a personal connection to human rights abuses, has spent the past six months publicly flogging political crackdowns around the world, notably in Russia, China and Venezuela. – USA Today
 
An advocacy group for workers in the nuclear weapons industry is calling on Congress to hold hearings to investigate charges from a Labor Department whistleblower that government officials are purposefully thwarting ill workers' or their widows' claims for compensation required by law. – Washington Free Beacon
 
The Coast Guard needs to present a 20-year fleet modernization plan that identifies what it intends to buy and what they project the costs to be, particularly in light of current plans to buy heavy icebreakers and offshore patrol cutters at about the same time, the Government Accountability Office reported Tuesday. – USNI News
 
Military Issues
 
The Pentagon has made no change yet to its policy on transgender service members, the nation’s highest-ranking military officer said in a letter Thursday, a day after President Trump sent tweets announcing a total ban on such personnel. – Washington Post’s Checkpoint
 
Taxpayer-funded sex-change surgeries would cost the Pentagon $1.3 billion over 10 years. – Washington Free Beacon
 
Resistance to Donald Trump’s ban on open transgender service is coalescing throughout the military, from top brass to grunts to veterans to their overseers on Capitol Hill. – The Daily Beast
 
Army Chief of Staff Mark Milley said Thursday he learned of President Trump’s decision to ban transgender people from serving in the military from the news, but insisted that was not unusual. – The Hill
 
President Donald Trump’s announcement of looming changes in the military’s transgender policies could be less controversial within the ranks than among civilians, given troops’ conflicted views on the issue – Military Times
 
Russian Election Interference
 
The Russian lawyer who met with Donald Trump, Jr. was working on behalf of the Russian government to persuade the Trump campaign to repeal the Magnitsky Act, Bill Browder, the founder and CEO of Hermitage Capital Management testified before Congress on Thursday. – Foreign Policy’s The Cable
 
Key lawmakers are threatening to cancel the authorization of sensitive U.S. spy operations until congressional leaders investigate efforts by former top Obama administration officials to leak highly classified national security information in what many believe was a targeted campaign to undermine the Trump administration, according to senior congressional sources familiar with the situation. – Washington Free Beacon
 
Julia Ioffe writes: In all of the drama over the Russian interference in America’s 2016 election, it’s easy to forget just how corrupt Russia is, and how much corruption and money flows still determine the official course of action. The Magnitsky Act so angered the Russians because it targeted what really mattered to them; it went after Russian elites’ raison d’être. It’s why Senator John McCain called it a “pro-Russia” law, and many in the Russian opposition agreed: it went after not the Russian people, but the elites who stole from them with brazen impunity – Atlantic Council
 
United Nations
 
Despite years of “zero tolerance” of the sexual abuse crisis by United Nations’ peacekeepers, the U.N. peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic (CAR), which has been at the center of the worst U.N. sexual abuse scandal in years, is still a bureaucratic shambles when it comes to recording, investigating and keeping track of those crimes, as well as training its personnel to avoid them, according to a U.N. internal report. – Fox News
 
Latin America
 
The bodies of five women and four men were found piled up in front of a house in the Mexican city of Nuevo Laredo on the border with Texas, local authorities said on Thursday. - Reuters
 
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and several of his Central American counterparts will explore strategies to combat criminal gangs during his visit to El Salvador, that country's foreign minister said on Thursday. - Reuters
 
With a spreadsheet listing undecided lawmakers, Brazilian President Michel Temer is working the phones to nail down support to block a corruption charge in a crucial congressional vote next week that will decide his political future, close aides said. - Reuters
 
Venezuela
 
The United States and Venezuela are on a collision course as President Trump promises to inflict economic pain if President Nicolás Maduro goes through with an election intended to enhance his powers. – New York Times
 
On Sunday, critics say, an authoritarian system long in the making will be formalized, reviving memories of an era that the region had hoped was over. In defiance of international warnings, the socialist government is pushing forward with a vote to elect a constituent assembly that will have the authority to change the 1999 constitution, supplant the opposition-controlled legislature and potentially keep Maduro in power indefinitely. – Washington Post
 
The State Department on Thursday ordered family members of American government employees working at the United States Embassy in Caracas to leave the country and gave the employees the option to join them before a controversial vote to begin rewriting Venezuela’s Constitution. – New York Times
 
Venezuela’s partisan divide is so deep and bitter that even the ID requirements for voters in Sunday’s critical elections have sparked controversy. – Washington Times
 
After months of street protests in Venezuela in which more than 100 people have been killed, opponents of President Nicolás Maduro will make a last-ditch attempt this weekend to disrupt a controversial poll that critics say will push the country into dictatorship. – Financial Times
 
Days before a polarizing vote to start rewriting its constitution, Venezuela is convulsing to a rhythm of daytime strikes and nocturnal clashes. The most recent violence drove the death toll from nearly four months of unrest above 100 Thursday. – Associated Press
 
Editorial: If the constituent assembly is called, the United States should react decisively — but it should do so in ways that punish Venezuela’s corrupt rulers, not its long-suffering population. – Washington Post

Africa

The U.S. military is investigating a report that its service members were present at a Cameroonian base where U.S.-trained security forces allegedly detained and tortured civilians. – Foreign Policy’s The Cable
 
At least 30 people including civilians and members of the military have died after an attempted rescue of an oil exploration team kidnapped by suspected Boko Haram militants in northeast Nigeria, officials told Reuters on Thursday. - Reuters
 
Nigeria's lower house of parliament voted on Thursday in favor of constitutional amendments to reduce the presidency's powers, the latest step in a power struggle between President Muhammadu Buhari and the national legislature. - Reuters
 
F.W. de Klerk writes: A great deal is at stake. Failure would be devastating across the southern part of the continent. It would have a chilling effect on efforts to solve conflicts elsewhere through peaceful negotiations and solemn agreements. Success, on the other hand, could open South Africa—and the rest of Africa—to First World prosperity and stability. That would be fitting validation for the great nonracial accord concluded with Nelson Mandela and other national leaders 23 years ago. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Trump Administration

Harvey
 
The National Security Council’s top official for the Middle East has been removed from his job following internal complaints about his management style, according to senior Trump administration officials. – Washington Post
 
Stephen Hayes and Michael Warren report: Derek Harvey, a top Middle East adviser to President Donald Trump, has been fired from his position at the National Security Council, effective today. Harvey, a longtime intelligence professional with vast experience in the Middle East, was a key player in the Trump administration’s Iran policy review and its policy development in Syria, Iraq and other regional hotspots. – The Weekly Standard
 
Sessions
 
Senate Republicans on Thursday moved to block every path President Donald Trump might try to use to fire and replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a step they worry would disrupt the independence of the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
 
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Thursday night that he has been hurt by President Trump’s criticisms, but is still honored to serve the president as the nation’s chief law enforcement official and push forward his conservative agenda. – Washington Post
 
Charles Krauthammer writes: Trump relishes such a cat-and-mouse game and, by playing it so openly, reveals a deeply repellent vindictiveness in the service of a pathological need to display dominance. – Washington Post
 
Nominees
 
The Senate Armed Services Committee voted Thursday to send four of President Trump's civilian Pentagon nominees to the full Senate – Washington Examiner
 
A candidate for a senior job at the Department of Homeland Security withdrew from consideration because of President Trump's tweets about banning transgender people from serving in the military, according to a report Thursday. – Washington Examiner
 
Will Inboden writes: Amid the many challenges bedeviling the State Department, President Donald Trump’s choice of Kansas Governor Sam Brownback as ambassador at large for international religious freedom is a welcome development. – Foreign Policy’s Elephants in the Room

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